September 6, 2013

Impressive Level of Artificial Sweetener: Obama-Putin St. Petersburg Body Language

Obama Putin St Petersburg 2

Obama Putin St Petersburg 1

When Mr. Obama’s armored limousine pulled up to Constantine Palace in the afternoon, he emerged and strode over to a waiting Mr. Putin, who was greeting all of the visiting leaders one by one. The two shook hands and had businesslike if not warm smiles for each other, then turned to the news media cameras and smiled more broadly. But neither grabbed the other’s elbow or patted a back as they often do with other leaders.

The two will inevitably see each other and even talk on the sidelines of the official meetings here while everyone watches their body language. The Russian newspaper Izvestiya reported that the Russian government had changed the seating chart in a way that would move the two leaders farther apart, with five leaders between them instead of just one. But by the time they sat down, the seating chart seemed to have been scrambled again, with the American and Russian presidents separated by just two other leaders.

from: Watching the Obama-Putin Body Language (NYT)

Businesslike? Warm even? Oh, please.

As regards the camera, we’re talking about two of the most practiced actors on the world stage. We’re also talking about a battle of wills that was was already fever pitched over Edward Snwowden. Add a potential Syrian attack by the US and, tension- and prestige-wise, we’re in Kennedy – Khrushchev territory.

That’s not a greeting, that’s a face off. That’s a couple of players playing at a greeting and so knowing it, that’s what’s laughable. This visual handout from the G20 PR unit is not inconsequential by any stretch. On the contrary, it’s one of the thorniest images of the year. It’s such a supreme example of pretending, it’s the mutual recognition of the exercise that ultimately makes the contact authentic, even intimate actually. In the annals /annuls? of political protocol, this is an epic example of  “killing with kindness”  — coincident with the threat, because the grins are that hyperbolic, that one or both of those faces, if stretched just that much broader or wider, could shatter apart.

Eyes, jaws … oh, there we go:

(update: tweaked “annuls.” h/t: BooksAlive)

(photos 1 and 3: Guneev Sergey/Host Photo Agency via Getty. photo 2: Ramil Sitdikov/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images. caption: In this handout image provided by Host Photo Agency, Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets U.S. President Barack Obama at the G20 summit on September 5, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The G20 summit is expected to be dominated by the issue of military action in Syria while issues surrounding the global economy, including tax avoidance by multinationals, will also be discussed during the two-day summit. photo 4: AP.)

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Michael Shaw
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